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The current system of American education is in the midst of the growing educational crisis. Policymakers and education professionals appear unable and unprepared to fight the growing social, economic, financial, and political complexities that produce irreversibly negative impacts on schools and the quality and effectiveness of all educational processes. Of all educational issues currently at hand, the lack of funding, the lack of professional tutors, and the lack of school safety shape the triangle of the most serious complexities, with which schools and educational facilities must tackle to guarantee that our children are prepared to making successful career in adult life.
Funding remains the topic of the primary educational concern. Where schools seek federal or state financial support, they face a whole set of administrative and economic complexities, and thus appear unable to provide students with high quality of education. In the middle of the 1990s, all American schools were given the task “by the year 2000 for all children to enter school ready to learn… All children will have access to high-quality and developmentally appropriate pre-school programs that help prepared children for school” (Dawtrey 28). Unfortunately, and beyond the limits of preschool education, public schools require reconsidering the set of criteria, which education policymakers use when making funding decisions. In this context, community colleges and special education facilities seem to be in the most difficult situation due to them being unable to support themselves at times of the growing economic crises.
Community colleges are listed among those most susceptible to changes in federal and state funding. Moreover, the current reduction of federal programs takes place against the growing enrollment into rural community colleges which by the end of 2004 has increased by 2.2 million students (McClafferty & Torres 87). As a result, community colleges face serious difficulties on their way to improving the quality of educational processes, implementing new technologies, retaining high quality staff and supporting students in their striving to become a part of the American workforce. Special education facilities face similar issues, but beyond the boundaries of the educational process itself, the lack of funding deprives students of a chance to satisfy their special needs. The problem is in that insurance companies are no longer willing to support these children. Moreover, districts are not always able to effectively allocate federal and state special education funds. Finally, the rising costs of special education make it at least impossible for these educational facilities to meet the basic criteria of quality education. Conventional public schools are also familiar with funding issues; under the pressure of financial difficulties, 40% of schools are pushed to reduce summer school; 50% of schools find it difficult to keep professional teachers; every third school has to eliminate extracurricular programs, while around 30% of schools have no other choice but to reduce the programs for gifted and talented children (McClafferty & Torres 93).
Does that mean that in the light of the growing financial crisis, American education does not have a chance for survival? The truth is that the federal budget has sufficient amount of financial resources to satisfy the growing needs of public, special, and community schools. However, due to the excessive administrative complexity and ineffective allocation, districts fail to provide schools with the necessary amount of funds. In this context, federal policymakers are responsible for developing a sound set of criteria which will work to provide schools with the necessary amount of material and non-material resources, to guarantee that children with usual and special needs do not face any barriers on their way to better educational achievement.
Unfortunately, the list of issues which contemporary system of education in America experiences is not limited to funding. The lack of professional teachers is one of the most serious complexities public schools currently try to resolve. Even private and charter schools which parents consider to be a viable alternative to underperforming public schools suffer the shortage of professional teaching staff. “The study which was conducted by researchers at the University of California and Stanford University and draws on a national survey of charter school educators, suggests that some charter schools, particularly those serving low-income and minority students, may be replicating problems of the public schools they were intended to replace” (Rimer). As a result, where schools should provide the most problematic population groups with additional stimuli for education and learning, the latter are deprived of an opportunity to improve the quality of their educational achievements. It appears that in their desire to comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind initiatives, schools are inherently unable to attract and retain highly qualified teachers for their core academic disciplines. In this context, it is essential to look deeper into the roots of the issue and to understand what stands behind the lack of professional teachers in public and charter schools.
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The truth is that states are responsible for spreading teachers among schools, but state authorities tend to neglect the needs of minority and low-income students, sending the best teachers to high-income schools. The United States produces sufficient number of teachers who could satisfy the learning needs of all students, but unless federal policymakers are able to resolve and eliminate a whole set of inadequacies which currently characterize the process of educating and recruiting teachers, we will hardly be able to resolve the current shortage of teaching staff. Moreover, given that the effects of the current shortages are disproportionately perceived by minority and low-income students, the need for supplying public schools with high quality teachers becomes even more urgent.
What can be done to resolve current shortage complexities? First of all, when the number of high qualified teachers is limited, and when the majority of high qualified teachers strive to fill the vacancies which private schools offer, public school teachers should be given an opportunity to improve their professional skills. Raising the standards of teaching on the one hand and investing significant resources into the process of teach education could help public schools obtain and preserve highly professional educational staff. Practical experience shows that “raising standards has already reduced the diversity of pool of teacher education students. Admissions criteria that emphasize academic performance to the exclusion of other attributes keep some promising prospective teachers” (WCER).
In the light of the growing diversity trends, it is essential that teachers are given an opportunity to review their cultural attitudes and to increase their cultural sensitivity, which is particularly important in case of culturally and ethnically diverse public schools. Beyond improving the quality of their primary teaching skills, the whole system of education in the U.S. should work to encourage minority and low-income students seek opportunities for cultural self-realization, which is impossible with high quality educational support on the teachers’ side. Education professionals and teachers should be more responsible toward the cultural principles they promote at schools. Moreover, education professionals and teachers should be able to balance educational and cultural requirements with better educational competence and compliance. All these are impossible without expanding the range of educational opportunities available to public school teachers, and federal authorities are primarily responsible for delegating teachers with additional set of professional obligations and supporting teachers in their striving to meet specific needs of low-income and minority students.
Certainly, the lack of professional staff and the lack of funding form a whole complex of issues which cannot be readily resolved. More than that, these issues are further aggravated by the lack of safety in schools. In the period between 1996 and 1997 more than 50% of schools reported at least one serious crime incident during the schools year. Fifty seven percent of schools recognized that at least one violent crime incident had been reported to law enforcement professionals. About 190,000 incidents of fighting without a weapon led to the increase of violent crimes at schools (IES). Logically, schools with serious discipline issues were more likely to report the incidence of serious violent crimes, with the highest crime rates found among middle and high school students (IES).
These safety issues primarily stem from schools’ inability to adopt the relevant safety measures and to protect their students from violent attacks. In 1997 only 2 percent of schools readily reported the development and implementation of zero-tolerance safety policies and stringent measures of security, including a full-time guard and random metal detector checks (IES). 84 percent schools appeared to have low level security policies without any guards or metal detectors at hand (IES). The more serious issue is in that students themselves recognize the risks they face at schools and express their increasing concern with regard to their schools’ ability to protect them from their classmates’ violence. When asked to name the most serious problems at school, teenagers are more likely to include safety, violence, and fighting into the list of the most problematic educational issues. “Safety issues garnered the most mentions (13%), nearly twice as many as any other specific problem, including lack of funding, overcrowded classrooms, use of drugs and alcohol, and lack of student effort” (Lyons). When combined with the lack of high quality teachers and the lack of funding, safety issues shape an extensively negative image of schools, with the children hardly having a single chance to improve their learning achievements and to become a part of professional workforce.
In the context of school safety, federal and state authorities can work cooperatively to provide schools with appropriate security technologies (e.g. metal detectors) and to supply schools with at least one school resource officer. What seems to be more important though, is addressing the peer culture and the issues that grow of the students’ desire to promote the relevance of their values and beliefs in school settings. It should be noted that “the norms, actions, beliefs, and values within broad sectors of today’s peer culture are socially destructive and demeaning. Many youth experience a trial by fire in negotiating the complex and difficult social tasks involved in finding one’s place in this peer culture” (Hester 99). As a result, where students tend to display their violent attitudes toward their peers, it is the teachers and education professionals’ obligation to judge and evaluate the quality of norms and standards to which students adhere. Transforming peer culture is a difficult task, but addressing safety issues at school is impossible without reviewing the attitudes which students display towards conventional norms of their daily performance at school. Teaching children effective conflict resolution techniques could potentially resolve the major portion of safety issues schools currently experience. Finally, making schools safer is impossible without active parent involvement. Parents, teachers, and education professionals should work cooperatively to monitor students’ compliance with the basic norms and standards of non-violent behavior.
The lack of funding, high quality teachers and safety issues form a whole complex of problems which currently characterize the system of American education. Federal and state policymakers face a whole set of challenges which require immediate resolution. It should be noted that the majority of the current complexities within the system of American education have grown of the states’ inability to effectively allocate available resources, to reduce administrative costs, to provide teachers with additional educational opportunities, and to involve parents and children into all aspects of educational process. Whether public and charter schools are able to resolve their daily issues depends on the ways they choose to achieve better educational compliance. In this context, developing cooperative relationships between schools, state authorities, parents, and children may readily become the source of the major educational initiatives.